John Piper’s Works Righteousness “Gospel” (Part 1) — Piper’s teaching tactics and view of God
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Gal 4:6-7
In this series of posts we intend to show you the erroneous and harmful theology of John Piper. The Persistent Widow has already written a separate series (Jan 9th, Jan 22nd) on this same topic focusing primarily upon Piper’s notions about the unpardonable sin and marriage/divorce/remarriage. But we want to continue to bring this matter to your attention. Why? Because John Piper has had a huge influence on Christians and pastors and theologians, and that influence has not been entirely good. In fact, the majority of it has not been good.
In our opinion, the very roots of Piper’s theology (Desiring God, Christian Hedonism) set him off on an inevitable course of preaching a false gospel of works righteousness. This theme is like a bad thread that permeates Piper’s teaching. It is evidenced in his unorthodox notions about our justification not being complete until a future day of judgment when Christ will examine our works. These works are “necessary for salvation” in Piper’s teaching, as will be demonstrated in Part Three of this series.
You probably all know that John Piper very forcefully teaches that divorce is NEVER permissible before God. He says there is to be no divorce for any reason. He insists that divorced people cannot remarry as long as their ex-spouse is alive. And Piper is not ashamed to lay this horrific burden on suffering people. Through the course of this series of articles, we hope to show you that Piper’s “permanence view” of marriage is simply a bad fruit that has grown from the vine of his bad theology. There are numbers of other bad fruits on that vine as well, and we believe that Christians and pastors have been picking and eating this fruit way too long. If you are a Piper fan, we hope that we can convince you that the fruit you have been consuming has worms in it.
This post, Part One in a series by Jeff Crippen, is like a preliminary dish in a meal of several courses, or a ‘setting the scene’ chapter in a book.
A common tactic in Piper’s teaching
A preemptive strike to create wriggle room for false doctrine; getting readers to doubt their own reasoning
Let’s use a black cow and a white cow to illustrate a very common tactic in Piper’s teaching and writing. Yes, here in our town the cows are mostly black and white – Holsteins you know. But for our purposes here, we’ve got two cows. One is black. One is white. Now, what John Piper often does before he sets out some strange doctrine, is what we might call a theological “preemptive strike.” It goes something like this:
- The cow is white. The cow that I (Piper) am going to be telling you about is most definitely white.
- You may think that I am going to say that the cow is black.
- But remember, I have told you in advance, the cow is white.
There’s the preemptive strike. Now he sets out teaching:
- The cow is very, very dark in color. In fact, it is so dark that you almost can’t even see it at night. If you were to put this cow up against a black background, it would virtually disappear.
- The whiteness of this cow, you see, is much like the night.
Huh? But Mr. Piper, you just said in the previous chapter that the cow is white. It sure sounds a whole lot like now you are saying the cow is black. “Oh no,” Piper responds (or more likely, his fans respond) “you just don’t understand what I am saying. The cow is white.”
See what I mean by “preemptive strike”? Piper tries to cover your objection, which he knows full well that his wording is going to bring about, by telling you in advance that what his words sound like to you, are not what he means at all. He works in this way to make you doubt your own ability to evaluate, and thus builds into you a distrust for your own senses and reasoning abilities. We all here at ACFJ have heard that one before!
A little taste of Piper’s view of God
Let me give you an example of Piper’s view of God which is closely connected with his teaching that we are justified by our works. “WHAT? WAIT! HOLD ON!” someone says. “John Piper does not believe or teach that we are justified by our works!” Well, how do you know that, I ask? “Because he has said so in other places. He even wrote a book on the imputed righteousness of Christ.” But you see, that was his preemptive strike. We will show you his other statements about the necessary role of works in our justification. But to the example. This one comes from his book What Jesus Demands from the World. In this book, Piper regularly confounds Law and Gospel. Who is he speaking to in the following quote? To us. To everyone. To Christians and to the unsaved:
What then is left to fear? The answer is unbelief. For those who follow Jesus, fearing God means fearing the terrible prospect of not trusting the one who paid such a price for our peace. In other words, one of the means that God uses to keep us peacefully trusting in Jesus is the fear of what God would do to us if we did not believe. The reason we do not live in the discomfort of constant fear is because we believe. That is, we rest in the all-sufficient work of Jesus and in our Father’s sovereign care. But at those moments when unbelief tempts us, a holy fear rises and warns us what a foolish thing it would be to distrust the one who loved us and gave his Son to die for our anxiety-free joy.
One illustration has helped me see how this experience works. When my oldest son Karsten was about eight years old, we went to visit a man who owned a huge dog. When we opened the door, the dog looked at my son almost eye to eye. That’s a fearful prospect for a little boy. But we were assured the dog was harmless and that he really liked children. After a while we sent Karsten to the car to get some thing we forgot. As he ran across the yard, the dog gave a deep growl and loped up behind him. The owner leaned out of the door and called to Karsten, “You better just walk; he doesn’t like it when people run away from him.” A huge dog that loves children but does not like people to run away from him is what God is like. If we will trust him and enjoy him and throw our arms around his strong neck, he will be everything we ever hoped for in a friend. But if we decide that there are other things we want more than him and turn to run away, he will get very angry. Jesus said this as clearly as we could wish in Luke 19:27, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” Fearing God means fearing the terrible prospect of running away from the merciful, all-providing, all-satisfying reign of King Jesus.
John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World, Crossway, 2006, pp. 96-7. (Kindle Edition: Good News Publishers; Kindle Locations 1454-1469)
So, the Christian is to be afraid of God, seeing God as a loving Father who could flip out at any moment if our faith is not up to par and throw us into hell. These quotes, by the way, appear in chapter 11 which is entitled, “Demand #11 FEAR HIM WHO CAN DESTROY BOTH SOUL AND BODY IN HELL”.
According to Piper, “if we decide that there are other things we want more than him and turn to run away,” God will get very angry with us and slaughter us. And make no mistake, ‘us’ here includes born again Christians: those who have been given the right to become children of God. Piper has already made it clear at the very start of the book that these ‘Demands’ Jesus makes apply to everyone, to believers and to unbelievers alike, because all people are commanded to repent and believe in Christ. So Piper has taken Luke 19:27, a verse about the enemies of God, conjoined it to a little illustration about a dog and a boy, and applied it to believers to instill legalistic fear in them.
In contrast, listen to the Word of God:
John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
Gal 4:6-7 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Rom 8:15-16 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
1Jn 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
So there is just a bit of an introduction to Piperism. John Piper, much like a true Roman Catholic, is striving and striving to be good enough to be accepted by God. In the end, Piper’s “Desiring God” means, “don’t mess up,” and his “Future Grace” really means, “Future Judgment.”
(Go to Part 2 of this series)
For further reading
The book Not Under Bondage is packed with scriptural arguments for why the Bible gives three grounds for divorce: abuse, adultery and desertion.
Online articles that give scriptural reasons why Piper’s divorce doctrine is wrong:
Two posts which show how Piper’s doctrine has had horrific effects on victims of domestic abuse: